Highway to Hell – Part 1

Leonard Lea Frazer

I can safely say, “I’ve been to Hell and back.” Unfortunately, I neglected to take any pictures. I am, of course, referring to Hell, Norway.

On a self-planned Scandinavian tour in 1993, I stopped briefly in that central Norwegian town. As my train was turning off the mainline, east of Trondheim, the mesmerizing blend of German, French, and Norwegian conversations was interrupted momentarily by one line of perfect English. “Well boys,” point-ed out a French traveler just across the aisle from me, “we’re in Hell!” Our car was passing the Hell train station and, after a burst of laughter, the European dialogue-fusion continued. Due to its curious name, the building is the most photographed sta-tion in all of Europe.

My Nordic sojourn began on the Swedish island of Gotland, situated in the Baltic Sea, southwest of Stockholm. Five connecting flights from Prince George, British Columbia, brought me to a small airport on Gotland’s west side where the runway passes very close to a Viking cemetery. I observed the ancient rock mounds as I headed for the island’s largest community, Visby. Gotland is a favorite summer holiday terminus for thousands of mainland Swedes and is rich in Neolithic, Viking Age and Medieval history.

Camping, sightseeing, and cycling have become a popular combination for visitors. In Visby my first encounter was with a rock band, which was entertaining at a waterfront cafe and belting out the AC-DC song, “Highway to Hell.” Was this a message for me, or just “heavy metal” with a Swedish accent?

The natural and manmade beauty of Gotland was outstanding. From the rustic, chimney-like rock formations called “sea-stacks” that can be found in several coastal areas, the 92 medieval stone churches, mostly in ruins, the wooden windmills, the abandoned stretches of sandy beaches, dot-ted with swimmers and wind surfers, to the walled city of Visby with its impressive open-air market; I enjoyed them all. Every August the residents of Visby dress in medieval costumes and participate in a week-long celebration which is highlighted by a jousting tournament. After six days of island exploring in a rented car I crossed the Baltic Sea on a local ferry to the area in southeastern Sweden know as Smaland.

From Vaxjo, in the heart of the glass-blowing district, I visited the glass factory, Kosta Boda, where I became absorbed in the dark secrets of a most fascinating art form. Not far from the glass-blowing works I saw the Oxmuseum, which is operated by Set Sigvardsson, former dairy farmer. Set now spends his winters manufacturing wooden oxen in various sizes, and his sum-mers conducting walking farm tours with a hands-on approach and entertaining family and school groups with his guitar playing and singing.

The highlight of the Oxmuseum is Set’s three gigantic live oxen. One of the three weighs around 1,000 kilograms. Mr. Sigvardsson has written a book on the history of the ox in Smaland and for more than ten years has been promoting the beast of burden, as “a living symbol” of Swedish heritage. When he poses for a photograph beside one of his huge pets he doesn’t say “Cheese”. He says, “Oxen!”

Travelling through Smaland I made my way south to Helsingborg by rail, where the entire train glided onto the ferry, which crosses the narrow strip of ocean between Sweden and Denmark to Helsingor. I spent a day camping in the area east of Copenhagen and proceeded to the old town of Esbjerg. On the day I arrived, Esbjerg was in the middle of a week-long festival celebrating its 125th anniversary of becoming a port and the conclusion of an international sailboat race. Esbjerg was Denmark’s first North Sea port, officially opened on August 15, 1874. The Cutty Sark Tall Ships’ Race had Esbjerg as the finish line this year, with more than 100 sailing ships from 40 countries competing in the annual event. The race started in Newcastle, England, proceeded to Larvik, Norway, and ended in Esbjerg. An assem-bly of sailing ships, tied up in the inner har-bor, attracted thousands of visitors. Guests were permitted to board the larger ships and explore above and below decks.

My next stop was Olso, Norway where I visited the Vigeland Park. It contains hun-dreds of sculptures all designed by one man, Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943). The park’s famous 14.12 meter monolith, which consists of 121 sculpted human figures piled one on the other, struggling and stretching towards the heavens, is made of solid granite. Mr. Vigeland worked for 13 months to construct a life-size model, and three stone sculptors laboured for 14 years to complete it. The park contains a total of 192 sculptures with more than 600 figures and is situated on 80 acres of parkland. Vigeland spent the last 40 years of his life in the park’s creation.

(To be continued next issue)